Yesterday, Governor Rick Scott announced the selection of two Jacksonville leaders, Earl Johnson and Rutledge Henry Pearson, to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame. Also announced was the selection of Jesse McCrary, Jr. of Miami. Governor Scott chose these three from a list of 10 distinguished nominees selected by the Florida Commission on Human Relations for making significant contributions to the improvement of life for minorities and all citizens of Florida.
Earl M. Johnson (1928-1988) was the first African-American to become a member of the Jacksonville Bar Association. Johnson also served as chair of the Florida Board of Bar Examiners and was instrumental during the Consolidation of Jacksonville through his service on the Local Government Study Commission as secretary. Johnson was committed to fighting inequality and segregation throughout his life and distinguished himself by representing many civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ambassador Young. His cases helped to desegregate many public places in Florida, including schools, parks, water fountains and hospitals. The Earl M. Johnson Memorial Park in Jacksonville was created and named in honor of his work for the civil rights movement.
Rutledge Henry Pearson (1929-1967) was an American history teacher, civil rights leader and human rights activist who focused on empowering his students to become involved in the civil rights movement and promote nonviolence. Pearson first became involved in the civil rights movement as a baseball player when Jacksonville park officials chose to close the park rather than allow organized baseball to become integrated. In 1961, he was elected President of the Jacksonville Branch of the NAACP and later elected President of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP. Under his leadership, peaceful demonstrations against segregated hotels and restaurants were held and membership grew. Rutledge H. Pearson Elementary School in Jacksonville is named in his honor.
Jesse McCrary, Jr. (1937-2007), formerly of Miami, was the first African-American to serve as secretary of state in the Florida Cabinet since Reconstruction, as well as the first African-American assistant attorney general. As a student at Florida A & M University, McCrary helped organize sit-ins in Tallahassee against racial discrimination. After graduation, he served in the United States Army and received an honorable discharge as a First Lieutenant. McCrary went on to become the first African-American lawyer to argue before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of a southern state. He later became the first African-American in the south to be appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals. During his life, McCrary argued many landmark state and federal cases including Neil v. State, which prohibited the dismissal of jurors solely on the basis of race. In 2002, the Florida A & M College of Law founded the Jesse McCrary, Jr. Chapter of National Black Law Students Association and, in 2013, the Little River Post Office in Miami was dedicated and renamed in recognition of his work as a civil rights pioneer.